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History and potential

China was a relative latecomer in digitalisation, yet in the past twenty years it has witnessed a staggering growth in internet usage, and it is now by far the biggest internet market in the world. With over 1 billion internet users, its digital population trumps the total population of the United States and European Union combined.

Size is not the Chinese digital landscape’s only striking feature. Due to a combination of governmental restrictions and cultural distinctiveness, the majority of internet platforms commonly used globally (Google, Facebook, Amazon etc) are not accessible and used in China. This has created a unique ecosystem in which local platforms have substituted in usage and in many cases surpassed global platforms in functionalities and sophistication.

Owing to its size and captive audience, China offers Western companies significant potential to export their products and increase their sales on the huge online marketplaces. However, China is very different and successfully doing business there, requires a full understanding of how things work and how to go about optimising the opportunities available.

With help from local experts, Luxembourg’s Trade & Investment office in Shanghai has put together a detailed overview of the digital landscape in China, including e-commerce outlets and a list of dos and don’ts to penetrate this dynamic and unique market.

You can read more under

and get in touch with our office in Shanghai for more information or assistance.

Included in the Foreign Markets section are the key topline features of the Chinese internet:
  • Its population is enormous, with over 1 billion users. Internet penetration stands at 73.0%, which is very high considering China’s population of over 1.4 billion users. A comparable country by population, India, has a penetration rate of only 47.0%.
  • Access mostly happens via mobile. Over 99.7% of users connect via mobile and not necessarily via computer, which is higher than many Western countries. This has important repercussions, namely the Chinese users’ preference of apps over websites.
  • E-commerce is a way of living. China is the only country in the world where more purchases happen online than offline. In Western countries, only around 10-15% of purchases are made online, with offline shopping still being prevalent.
  • Chinese users mostly browse the Chinese web. Government restrictions on foreign platforms and relatively little foreign language proficiency shield the global internet from users, who mostly browse local platforms in the local language.
How can the guide help you?

These characteristics make it apparent that the Chinese internet requires companies and organizations to rethink their strategy and entering China online cannot be tackled as “adding just another language on the official website”. These key rethinking strategies will be addressed in depth in the following sections of this guide.

These are the topics covered in the following sections:

  • Chinese digital users and their specificities. Understanding how Chinese use the internet in a profoundly different way from the West is key in communicating to them properly, on the right platforms and with the appropriate strategies.
  • E-commerce in China. China is the world’s biggest e-commerce market by a long mark and Chinese online shoppers behave in a very peculiar way. This section will list the main e-commerce characteristics and platforms in the country.
  • Cross-border e-commerce. A relatively new regulatory framework that allows companies to sell their products in China without being physically in the country, its features and differences from traditional e-commerce will be addressed here.
  • Social media in China. China has the world’s most social media users, none of which use the Western social networks readers are familiar with. This section will list main platforms and the way users interact on them.
  • Digital marketing. This section will introduce the foundations of promotion and advertising online in China, with a particular focus on companies that are just starting to promote themselves the Chinese internet.
  • Legal considerations. This section will list a few legal matters companies will need to be careful about before entering China through online. Despite not being a definitive legal guide, it provides a starting point for companies to seek professional legal support.
  • Dos and don’ts. A list of 10 positive and 10 negative recommendations based on previous successful and failed examples of foreign companies entering the Chinese digital ecosystem.

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